This Article provides the first comprehensive analysis of patent law's "pioneer invention doctrine" in almost two decades. Since the early 1990s, patent scholars have unanimously reported that case law favoring so-called "pioneer" patents-i.e., those disclosing the most revolutionary inventions-is dead letter. Accordingly, most scholars have ignored the pioneer doctrine entirely. Those few who have studied it have consistently argued that the doctrine ought to be raised from the dead and reintroduced to patent law. This Article refutes scholarly consensus on both points. First, empirical evidence shows that the pioneer doctrine is still very much good law, especially at the district court level where it is routinely applied. In fact, the pioneer doctrine actually arises in litigation just as frequently as other issues that receive substantial scholarly attention. Second, this Article argues that the pioneer doctrine should now be excised from patent law once and for all, rather than returned to a place of prominence. Numerous aspects of patent law ensure that pioneer inventors receive generous patent rights without additional assistance. Further, the history of innovation strongly suggests that truly pioneering inventions do not exist. Despite the notoriety of inventors like Edison and Bell, a close reading of history shows that virtually all "pioneer" inventions were independently and contemporaneously invented by multiple groups working to solve the same known problems. Finally, case studies from various industries demonstrate that dominant pioneer patent rights generally stifle rather than promote innovation because they significantly discourage investment in the development of next-generation technology.
90 N.C. L. Rev. 379